Tuesday, January 11, 2005

"Theoretical" Work in Grad School

Now, even though I am an electrical engineer, I'm taking a course this quarter out of the Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology (EEOB) department on Behavioral Ecology (EEOB 740).

Of course, I am the only engineer in the class. I'm taking the class for very nontraditional reasons dealing with my very nontraditional research. Nearly everyone else in the class is an Anthropoloy PhD student, though there are a few other soft sciences in the class, and there are two or three undergrads in their senior year. One of the most wonderful things about the class is that out of about 25 students, probably 18 are female. This won't be a shock to anyone who isn't an engineer. As far as I knew, classes with that many females didn't exist in nature. As far as I knew, girls were only 1 part per 1000 students. How could there possibly be this many concentrated in one class? It baffles me. And we even had a NEW student today! And it's another girl! She's even a very cute girl with a cute name and a cute voice! How does this happen?!

Getting back to the topic of this post, today I was sitting next to one of the few undergraduates. He's a senior in some sort of biology-related major.

Now, non-engineering graduate-level classes often expose new graduates to the "uncomfortable" notion that mathematics are not only useful but inevitible in modern research. You simply cannot avoid Calculus if you want to study anything that is remotely related to science or statistics. EEOB 740 (Behavioral Ecology) is one of these classes that starts to use math. This is pefectly okay to me, the engineering student. Ordinary differential equations are extremely important to even the sophomore engineering student; by graduate school the engineering student starts to take for granted that there are people who don't use math on a regular basis. So you can imagine what it was like today when the professor explained to the class **WHY** the derivative of a constant is equal to 0 (and he didn't even give a geometric explanation!!! He did it by taking the derivative of a variable to the 0th power!!). (oh, and after that he reviewed the quotient rule...)

So before class, this undergraduate student was talking to some of the people around him about math. He apparently hasn't taken math for 3 years, and he's taking Math 153 this quarter. He says he's taking Math 153 this quarter because he's preparing for more theoretical work in graduate school and he figured he should know the fundamentals...

Math 153 at The Ohio State University is the Freshman class that follows Freshman level Integral Calculus. It is the first real class on Analytic Geometry.

Saying that this class has anything to do with the "fundamentals" one would need for "theoretical work" in graduate school is like saying that knowing how to count is a "fundamental" to doing arithmetic. Yes, it's important, but if it's your "fundamental" then you're a long ways off from doing your taxes.

Keep in mind that at OSU the classes that have "introduction" or "fundamentals" in their titles and are meant for graduate level students (even graduate level non-math students) also have course numbers no lower than 600 (or maybe one or two 500).

So I couldn't help but feel sorry for this poor kid. If he was going to do any "theoretical" work, he'd have a lot of work to do in graduate school to really prepare for that.

In truth, he's probably okay. No one learns ANYTHING in undergrad anyway, and most soft scientists learn ALL of their math in graduate school.

I just think it's funny that he thinks he's actually preparing himself. It's cute.

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